Updated: Jan 28, 2021
At the Academy, we speak often of academic excellence. This is rightly so; our students strive not to be middling multipliers or so-so storytellers. In all they do, their motive is mastery; their calling, commitment; and their end, excellence.
I’ve wondered of late, though, just what it means to be excellent. Webster tells us that to be excellent is to be “eminently good.” I’ve found this definition satisfying, but I’ve also found it lacking depth and punch when applied to education. Of course, we want our students to be eminently good at mathematics, language arts, fine arts, and physical education. But if our students excel only in those academic disciplines, are we fulfilling our roles as educators at the Academy?
Well, our answer may be found in the definition previously supplied: The excellence we teach at the Academy is firstly and foremostly that we, faculty and students alike, are to be eminently good.
The most moving figures in history excelled at many things – political savvy, engineering genius, battle strategy – but they were great chiefly because they were good. During the Civil War, when William Tecumseh Sherman, General of the Union Army, met Abraham Lincoln, he was initially skeptical. But at the close of a lengthy hour-long conversation with the President, he averred with the many that he had “all faith” in Lincoln because he was “pure minded, honest, and good.” Lincoln was an unmatched communicator, listener, and visionary, but to those who knew him well, he was, above all, good.
In light of Lincoln, we might rightly concur with Flannery O’ Connor that “a good man is hard to find.” Indeed, the goodness of men such as Lincoln equates to historic excellence because it was outstanding, and it was, as it is today, rare. For this reason – and we’re careful of hyperbole – Mrs. Gildersleeve and I are highly encouraged by what we’ve seen in our first week at the Academy. 7th graders discreetly instruct 4th graders in proper basketball shooting form, 3rd graders traverse the playground to embrace Pre-K students, and students of all grades consistently do what is right, honest, and good by their classmates and teachers. It’s the first week, yes – there are sure to be disciplinary moments to come. Nonetheless, we’ve seen and experienced excellence of the most important, enduring kind.
As we look to the year ahead, may the Lord grant us excellence, but may He help us first to be good.